Small Errors in Journalism have Large Credibility Impacts: Incompetence at the new New Republic.

I’m annoyed with The New Republic. Last week, during the kerfluffle over Ben Carson’s objections to a Muslim serving as president, the New Republic published a column purporting to explain that Carson’s position was a misinterpretation of the constitution. Despite restating the “no religious test” language, the article flatly stated that the Constitution only mentions religion once, in the First Amendment:

There is no religious test, preference, predilection, or, for that matter, even mention of any particular religion in the document itself and, with the exception of one line in the first amendment, in which “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” no mention of religion is made at all.

This is, of course, dead wrong. Article VI contains the “no religious test,” clause:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

This clause guarantees that people of any religion may hold any public office in the States or in the Federal Government. You know, the exact clause that make’s Carson’s comment so egregiously obtuse. Yet TNR not only omits the clause from the article, but clearly indicates its own lack of awareness of the clause’s existence

The thesis of the article is not wrong, and for all I know the history is solid. I don’t know who Lawrence Goldstone is (his Amazon bio says he “has a Ph.D. in American constitutional studies”), but either he or his editor were asleep on the job. It is simple incompetence to publish a column that argues that Carson’s comments represent a misunderstanding of the Constitution, without even noting the existence of the key clause that contradicts the comment.

To top it off, the new management at TNR seems to have decided not to make it possible for readers to give feedback. While I welcome the elimination of an unmoderated “comments” section, a link that would allow us to email editors would be in order.

Originally published at on September 29, 2015.

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